Monday, June 20, 2011

The Fundraiser's Report Card (or, What the Giving USA Foundation's 2010 Report Means for Nonprofits)

Each year on the last day of school, my kids bring their report cards home in a sealed envelope.  This is always a big deal in our house, mainly because they are anxious to see if they've been promoted to the next grade. 

(I'd imagine that their father and I would know if that wasn't happening well before report card time. Regardless, their anticipation of how they did over the past year is kind of fun to see.)

With the release of Giving USA Foundation's 2010 results on charitable giving, today is kind of like report card day for us fundraisers, isn't it?

As those in the nonprofit sector know (but others reading this - hi, Mom! - may not) Giving USA is a highly reputable survey in the philanthropic world and taken seriously, as it should be. 

(I admit to being a little like my kids and myself as a parent on this day:  I'm eager (and optimistic) to see the results, to gauge how we as a profession are doing and where the giving is going, but I'm also usually not all that surprised about the results.)

This year's report doesn't have too many surprises, in my view.  "[T]otal charitable contributions from American individuals, corporations and foundations were an estimated $290.89 billion in 2010, up from a revised estimate of $280.30 billion for 2009. The 2010 estimate represents growth of 3.8 percent in current dollars and 2.1 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars."

It's encouraging to see an increase - albeit ever so slight - but this shows that the economy is still slamming charitable giving, which translates into countless nonprofits still struggling to provide services to the very people who were once their donors in better times. I hope that this means that giving is on the road to recovery.  It will be interesting to see if the 2010 numbers are revised downward next year, as the previous years' numbers have been.

What I always like to look at in the statistics is where the money is going, and who is giving it.  Again, not too many surprises here. As has been the case in the past, giving by individuals leads the pack (with those holding bequests, no less).  Corporate and foundation giving follow.

Religion still leads (and we know why: because their constituents are asked to give weekly) but is followed by education for the first time in recent years.  That's encouraging for those in that subsector.  Human services is still shaky - and worrisome, especially given how these groups tend to be impacted by volatile state budgets and whatnot. 

So, what does this mean for nonprofits and their fundraising?  Three words.  The same three that we've been chanting since the Great Recession started. 

Individuals, individuals, individuals. 

The big bang for the bucks might be in the corporate coffers, but a bigger bang can be had with the individual donors.  It shows that just as many resources on the nonprofit end need to be devoted to the individual donors and cultivating them for potential bequests.  (Making for another reason why attending the 2011 Millennial Donor Summit is a good idea.)

Again, the need to focus on individuals isn't surprising, but all too often its not where we direct our time. We don't always call at least three donors each day to say thank you or wish them a happy birthday. We don't always follow up after special events. And thank you notes are oftentimes considered the bane of a development officer's existance.

These sorts of tasks are a fundraiser's homework. And if we do our homework right (and every night), there won't be many surprises on our end-of-year report card.

Link to the Giving USA report on the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University's website.

What Other Fundraisers and Nonprofit Professionals are Saying:

Mitch Nauffts of the blog PhilanTopic has a good summary of the Giving USA report's highlights and links to other commentaries about it.    

On her blog Talisman Thinking Out Loud, Barbara Talisman provides fundraisers with ways they can use the report right now.

Jocelyn from Marketing for Nonprofits gives her insightful take.

Andrew Watt, CEO of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, says that the Giving USA report indicates we have a long road ahead.


  1. My apologies for just seeing this comment now, Waseem. Unfortunately, I don't have any specifics on that particular fundraiser. Best of luck.


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